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Mainlanders flock to HK for cheaper medicines

2013-08-29 10:08 Xinhua Web Editor: qindexing

Shoppers from the mainland who have shunned Hong Kong dispensaries because of the milk powder ban implemented earlier this year are now returning to this special administrative region with a new shopping list targeting anti-cancer drugs which could be as much as 10,000 yuan (about $1,632) cheaper than in the mainland.

While mainland visitors are enjoying a better deal, medical professions warned them to beware of fake drugs and that another out-of-stock wave might emerge.

Apart from medicines that can be found in most domestic medicine chests, drugs for treating serious illnesses like cancer on sale in Hong Kong are growing more and more popular among mainland visitors, according to Xinhua's investigation following recent media reports about the non-local consumers' great demand for the drugs.

Not only are drugstores in traditional tourism spots here such as Causeway Bay and Tsim Sha Tsui cramming with mainland tourists but also those located at less centralized places, including the Western district of the city, a local report said.

"People from the mainland trust Hong Kong brands due to their good quality and they mainly buy medicines of general types," a shop assistant from Cheung Tai Dispensary in Wanchai said.

Mainland buyers' confidence on Hong Kong-made drugs has been buttressed when some products made in China encountered some problems.

Mi Luofu, a mainlander working in this city, told Xinhua that she been sending medicines for children's use back to her hometown every month.

Aside from good quality, mainlanders prefer to buy medicines in Hong Kong because they are a lot cheaper.

For example, a pack of herceptin, a drug for breast cancer, is selling at 14,800 yuan in a Hong Kong dispensary in the Western district, while the same product costs 24,500 yuan in the mainland, with a difference of 10,000 yuan, according to a report by People's Daily earlier this month.

As a free-port, the Hong Kong SAR does not levy any customs tariff on imports and exports, making it possible for Hong Kong to sell products at much cheaper prices compared to those in the mainland.

Another reason for the cheap prices is that a simple trading framework is adopted in Hong Kong, where a product generally goes through only three to four layers of middlemen before being sold to end-users.

Iressa, a restricted medicine in Hong Kong for lung cancer manufactured by an Indian drug factory, is being sold for HK$2,500 ($322.16) to HK$3,200, while the same product from a British manufacturer cost HK$20,000.

Hong Kong Medical Association Chairman Dr. Tse Hung-hing warned that restricted medicines should only be sold at pharmacies which are under the supervision of a registered pharmacist and only with a doctor's prescription, otherwise the seller would be violating the law.

A local paper quoted Tse as warning customers that some types of medicine are of high toxicity and could cause serious problems if abused or not taken according to the doctor's instruction.

Although it is not illegal for customers to buy restricted drugs without a prescription, they are facing a risk of buying fake products by doing so, President of Hong Kong Society of Hospital Pharmacists William Chui told Xinhua. He urged mainland visitors to go and see a local doctor from whom they can also get the medicine they needed.

"Unlike most western countries where there is a clear division of labor between pharmacists and doctors, patients in Hong Kong usually get medicines directly from their physicians after consultation," which, he said, is a common practice in private medical sector in the city.

When asked why there was such a big difference in the price between an Indian-made drug and a British-made drug, the veteran pharmacist explained that drugs in India are usually produced without a patent and although it is actually a copy of the original medicine, the quality and effectiveness are not guaranteed.

Having noticed the rising number of mainlanders buying anti- cancer drugs in Hong Kong, Chui said that if this trend continues, the city might experience another wave of product shortage following the baby formula, whose quantity to be taken out of the territory was restricted, especially when the whole world are contending over these kinds of drugs.

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